There’s truly no city in the world quite like Shanghai. While many first-time China itineraries skip out on the country’s financial capital & most populous city, Shanghai isn’t a place I’d recommend leaving out of the running.
From its succulent food to scoping out one of the world’s most famous modern skylines, here’s a handful of indisputable reasons why you absolutely need to visit Shanghai…
Why visit Shanghai: Five irrefutable reasons
Chow down on Shanghainese cuisine
Although it might not be as famous as the fiery Szechwan cuisine of Chengdu, the Cantonese food of Hong Kong or Guangzhou, or the eclectic food offerings of Beijing, there’s no doubt that Shanghainese cuisine knows how to please a palate.
Anyone who’s scoured the streets with an empty stomach will tell you: Shanghai is a foodie city through and through.
There’s never any shortage of delicious dishes to try in Shanghai whether it’s mouth-watering sweet braised pork to succulent hairy crab. If there’s any one food that’s put Shanghai on the culinary map though, it’s dumplings.
The two most famous varieties of Shanghainese dumplings—xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings) and shengjianbao (fried dumplings)—are now found all around the world.
My own personal favourite is xiaolongbao. It features flavourful fillings including ginger, pork and shrimp and a silky smooth texture that feels as if it melts in your mouth. One of the best places to try this tasty snack in Shanghai is at the famous Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant in Old City.
Gawk at Shanghai’s modern skyline
Whether you’ve seen it in movies or on iPhone commercials, one look and you’ll know that checking out the incredible skyline is one of the absolute must-do activities in Shanghai!
The view from The Bund over the Huangpu River towards the financial district in Lujiazui District in Pudong is one of the simplest yet most unforgettable experiences you’ll have while visiting Shanghai.
Although the skyline is stunning at most times throughout the day, the best time to check it out is in the evening when the sun dips below the city and the lights of the skyscrapers glow.
Marvel at Shanghai from above
Much like the pleasure of seeing the skyline from ground-level, high-fliers and fans of vertiginous heights will love seeing it, perhaps even more, from up above. The financial district in Lujiazui provides a barrage of opportunities to check out Pudong and Huangpu District from above including Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower, and the space-age Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
If you want the mother of all views, however, beeline for the twisty Shanghai Tower. At a staggering 632 metres and 128 floors, Shanghai Tower is one of the world’s second-tallest building and features the highest observation deck at a dizzying 562 metres. Must-see? Yep, I think so.
In a city more well-known for its fast-paced business-first attitude, it may come as a surprise that Shanghai is surprisingly full of cool neighbourhoods. One of my favourite areas in Shanghai is, undoubtedly, the Old French Concession. As the name implies, this leafy district seems more attuned to a quiet mostly residential arrondissement in Paris than in China’s largest city.
Some areas to keep on the look out for in & around the leafy French Concession include the upscale shopping & entertainment district of Xintiandi and the artistic quarter of Tianzifang showcasing some of Shanghai’s 20th-century Shikumen residential architecture.
Catch the vibes of ancient China
I’ll start this section off with a quick warning: for ancient history buffs, Shanghai probably isn’t the compelling place in the country to get your fix. With the rapid development following Shanghai’s economic boom, many of the city’s oldest quarters slid to the wayside in favour of new developments.
Nonetheless, as you fall in love with Shanghai’s modern charms, there’s still plenty of opportunity to scope out its more historical ones—even if it comes off as a little inauthentic at times.
As interesting as the aesthetic of Old City might be for first-time visitors to China, many of the most interesting historical attractions lie outside the city.
There’s a handful of excellent day trips from Shanghai including the neighbouring canal-filled city of Suzhou where you’ll get your ancient Chinese architecture & garden fix or, within a quick trip on Shanghai public transportation, the easily-accessible, but super-cool, Qibao Ancient Town.